Wonder Woman – So Inspiring to Young Girls and the Lift We All Needed

I can’t review Wonder Woman like any old film.  It shouldn’t be so momentous that a woman director has directed for the first time a superhero film, that cracked $100 million opening weekend.  But it is.  Patty Jenkins had directed an Oscar winning independent film, Monster, that cost $8 million, had garnered the Directors Guild Award for the TV Series The Killing — and yet…. the headlines said it was a “gamble” to let her helm a superhero film.  It is maddening.  When young male directors are given huge action or superhero films after smaller indie films, it’s not called a gamble.  The Mary Sue called out this double standard misogyny.

I can’t separate my review of the film from what it has felt like to read about other women’s reaction seeing the film.  It’s everything to see a woman centered superhero film, directed by a woman.  And then there are the pictures of the little girls who dressed up to see the film, or got to meet their heroine.  Gah!

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I was a young girl when the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show aired in the US.  I watched it every week!

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It is everything for these girls now to have both a female lead for Star Wars and now Wonder Woman.

So, how was the film?  It was good.  Very good.  I don’t know if I can call it great merely as a film — but at this point, it’s not merely a film, it’s a cultural phenomenon.  I can’t separate all my feelings out.  I will tell you that Gal Godot was excellent as Wonder Woman.  When she was cast, people said her accent would be horrible — you know what?  I thought it was perfect.  It made her seem that much more “other” — that she had been raised on this isolated island away from the world.

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Chris Pine was fantastic.  It was huge that someone who had headed up his own franchise, Star Trek, was willing to play the sidekick to a female Superhero.  This is what Chris Pine said back in 2015 when he was cast as Steve Trevor:

“What excites me most is to work in a movie with a superhero woman. With a woman in the lead role. I am teamed with this intelligent, beautiful and strong woman to defeat the villains and save humanity.”

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He had a nice comedic touch in early scenes with Gal Godot, and there was great chemistry between them, too, especially in a nice scene where he teaches her to dance.  Let me just tell you also, another nice thing about a woman director — we learn just how much male nudity you can have in a PG-13 film!  He’s not a damsel in distress, but he’s always the one to say, “No, Diana, you can’t do that.”  And then he turns around and she’s already done it.  Like the incredible No Man’s Land scene.

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I really enjoyed the early part of the film, where we see little girl Diana watching her aunt, General Antiope train the Amazon warriors.  And how cool is it that Robin Wright, Princess Buttercup herself is this badass warrior! Connie Nielsen was also perfectly cast as Diana’s mother.

I really enjoyed the film right up till near the end.  It was a solid film.  The battle on the Amazon Isle was great.  But nothing was so visually stunning that it took my breath away.

Where the film was a bit lacking for me was the villain reveal and the way the film ended.  I won’t go into spoilers exactly why.  My main issues, though were with the villain’s motivation.  As my son said, “The themes got a bit muddy there at the end.”  Still, this was a film that was about something and not just watching superheroes crash into buildings.  Diana believes in the inherent goodness of humanity, and then learns the world is more complex than she thought.  Someone’s sacrifice restores her faith in humanity.

There is actually Oscar talk about Wonder Woman.  This is big.  And I’m not just talking about technical VFX awards.  Anne Thompson of Indie Wire wrote today that she could see a supporting nod for Chris Pine and a best actress nod for Gal Godot.  Wouldn’t that be something to see?

I have been going back and forth on my rating between four and four and a half stars.  It’s not a perfect film, but it felt so damn good.  Gal Godot is the perfect Wonder Woman  — And for those little girls!

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My Top 10 Hollywood Films of 2016

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24th, is one of my personal holidays.  Oscar nomination announcement day!  And while I’m late, I’m just under the wire before those announcements to give you my personal list of my top Hollywood films of 2016.  Apologies for getting to this later in January than I’d hoped.  My father was in the hospital for almost two full weeks.  Fortunately, he’s doing better, and I’m glad to be thinking of movies again instead of ICU and breathing tubes.

A major caveat is that I have not been able to see some of the films of 2016 that came out very late in the year for Oscar season.  Especially with my father’s illness, I have not seen Silence, Jackie, or Fences yet, just to name a few.

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1. La La Land

Did you have any doubt after this rapturous review describing my tears of joy, that La La Land would be my favorite film of the entire year?  I live and breathe movie musicals, and Damien Chazelle reviving the genre in Hollywood is my dream come true.  My love of musicals are why I love Indian Cinema so much (I’ll be posting a separate top list for Indian Cinema).  La La Land garnered a record number of Golden Globes with seven, and could make history tomorrow with a shattering 15 Oscar nominations.  With a musical, you add in song, score, etc. to all the traditional categories.  The previous record number of nominations would be 14 (All About Eve and Titanic).  Could it sweep?  Maybe….

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2. Moonlight

Moonlight is a movie that has really stayed with me.  I have been frankly amazed at how well this film has done.  I’m not sure it will resonate with the average Academy member (white, male and over 65), but it really did with me.  I’m crossing my fingers that it gets lots of nominations, especially for director Barry Jenkins and that Mahershala Ali wins Supporting Actor.  He was amazing.

manchesterbythesea_trailer3. Manchester By The Sea

I was privileged to attend the premiere of Kenneth Lonnergan’s Manchester By The Sea at Sundance last January.  I didn’t know what I was about to see, just that I had to see the latest film by the man who made You Can Count On Me.  I didn’t know that Casey Affleck was going to rip my heart out with his devastating performance.  Viewers now know that this is a sad film, but it has wonderful moments of comedy, especially with Affleck’s relationship with his nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, who I hope will get an Oscar nod tomorrow morning.

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4. Captain Fantastic 

Captain Fantastic may be a career best performance for Viggo Mortenson, as the father of six children, determined to home school them completely off the grid in the wilderness of the Northwest.  I hope and pray that Viggo gets recognition tomorrow with an Oscar nomination.  The film has kind of fallen of the radar, except that Viggo’s performance cannot be denied.  I strongly urge you to give this film a chance.  It’s available for rental on Amazon, Youtube, etc.  It was one of my favorites from Sundance last year.

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5. The Lobster

I loved every absurd moment of The Lobster.  Colin Farrell was amazing.  Highly recommend, and it’s now included with Amazon Prime.

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6. Deadpool

Oh, my goodness, I did not realize how stale the superhero movie genre had become until the fresh air of Deadpool.  Ryan Reynolds was made for this role, and aren’t we all so glad he fought so hard to win this role and get the movie made.  Second favorite thing about the movie is the snarling teenage girl X-men.  Love her!!  It’s a great film to rewatch as there is just so many little nuggets of goodness to catch.

7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople

You MUST see Hunt For the Wilderpeople.  Taika Waititi, the writer director has created a comic masterpiece about a young Maori foster kid and the ultimate curmudgeon, Sam Neill.  I feel so much better about the upcoming Thor movie, because Taika Waititi is a comic genius.   It’s included with a Hulu subscription right now, and also available to rent online.  You’ll thank me.

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8. Hell or High Water

Such a fantastic script for Hell or High Water.  Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges were particularly good.

9. Ali and Nino

I saw this sweeping historical love story epic, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy), at Sundance.  It only got a limited release, but it’s available to rent on demand.  It has a script by  screenwriter Christopher Hampton who wrote Atonement.  I could eat this movie with a spoon, it’s just so wonderful.  Ali and Nino tells the story of a Muslim prince of Afghanistan who falls in love with a Christian young woman (her father is played by Mandy Patinkin).  It’s set in the time of World War I, and I had no idea that Afghanistan was almost at democracy.  The movie was filmed just across the border in Turkey and the scenery is just stunning.

arrival210. Arrival

Choosing a last film of a top ten feels very arbitrary because there were a couple of films that were all about equal for me.  This could also easily be Zootopia, which I really enjoyed.  But I’m picking Arrival for Amy Adams’ wonderful performance.  This is the kind of Sci-fi movie I enjoy, one that makes you think.  Amy Adams sells you on this movie, and hip hip hurray, it was so much her movie.  Jeremy Renner was very much the supporting actor.  Linguist Amy Adams led the team who tried to communicate with the aliens, although  my brother pointed out that you didn’t really see her lead her team in an active way.  I hope Amy gets an Oscar nomination for this wonderful film tomorrow morning.

 

 

The Return of the Hollywood Musical with La La Land

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Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, wrote an article last week about La La Land and the state of the Hollywood Musical:  ‘La La Land’ Makes Musicals Matter Again

The first time I watched Damien Chazelle’s musical, La La Land, I thought a lot about how it worked, about its form, his craft and how the lickable candy-colored costumes bring to mind both M&M’s and Jacques Demy.  I thought about how Mr. Chazelle and his stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, fit into the history of the film musical. When I went to see La La Land again, I was in a terrible state, and this time I just fell into it, gratefully. I surrendered. Afterward, I realized that this is what it must have been like to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during the Great Depression.

I have a passion for musicals.  Back in the day  — gather children and hear about the dark ages before DVDs – I would set my alarm to get up in the middle of the night when an old Fred Astaire movie was playing on TV.  Then we got a VCR and I’d tape them to watch over and over.  It was pure magic.  The dance becoming part of the expression of the characters that she describes in La La Land is just what I found in Astaire/Rogers numbers like ‘Night And Day’ from my favorite of their films, The Gay Divorcee.  That exquisite Cole Porter music, and their magical romance through movement.

I watched the Gene Kelly musicals, too, but Fred was my first love.  He even dances in roller skates with Ginger in ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off’ in Shall We Dance.

Hollywood has done musicals in the modern era — God bless you Baz Luhrmann for your crazy wonderful movies like Moulin Rouge.

And there have been the sporadic adaptations of Broadway hits, like the dark cynical Chicago and the recent Into the Woods.  (Which gives me the perfect excuse to include my favorite song from Into the Woods, the ‘Agony’ duet of Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.)

 

There has really only been a sporadic spotty record of musicals from Hollywood in recent years, and not the steady diet I craved.

Then, I discovered Indian Cinema, and that void in my life was finally filled.  For others, the music numbers are an excuse to visit the bathroom, but they are the main event for me.  I love the earnest love stories and the emotions, and just ….ALL of it.  I love the BIG numbers, and the intimate duets in mustard fields.

 

Contemporary American movies could use more s’wonderful, more music and dance, and way, way more surrealism. They’re too dull, too ordinary, and too straight, whether they’re mired in superhero cliches or remodeled kitchen-sink realism.  One of the transformative pleasures of musicals is at even at their most choreographed, they break from conformity, the dos and don’ts of regimented life, suggesting the possibility that everyone can move to their own beat.

Amen, sister.  Amen.

Manohla talks about Damien Chazelle’s passion for the old musicals I love, the Fred and Ginger movies, the Gene Kelly masterpieces.  Every article I’ve read about La La Land just raves and raves that “they don’t make movies like this anymore.”  Thank God someone in Hollywood finally is….again.  I. Can’t. WAIT!  December 9th can not come fast enough.

Hell Or High Water – Finally a movie for adults

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This has been a long summer of disappointing super hero movies and so on.  Finally, in August, we get a movie for adults.  A nearly perfect movie, in fact.  Hell or High Water has a 98 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and near universal acclaim from the top critics.  And with good reason.  From the very first moments, you’re sucked right in.

Chris Pine (Toby) and Ben Foster (Tanner) are brothers.  They rob a small bank in a beaten down little Texas town in the morning right as the bank is being opened.  But strangely, they only want the loose money in the drawer, and have no interest in bundled money or opening the main safe.

The brothers drive back to a farm and bury the car in a pit dug by a backhoe.  While the robbery seems amateurish, this is obviously carefully planned.  And they hit more small bank branches.  Tanner (Foster) is the more impulsive brother and we learn that he’s recently come out of prison.  Their mother has died, leaving the land to the two brothers.

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Jeff Bridges is Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger about to retire.  His deputy is Alberto (Gil Birmingham), half Comanche and half of Mexican heritage.  Jeff Bridges was brilliant in this.  He’s old and crotchety, not looking forward to retirement at all.  The robbers aren’t stealing enough money to interest the FBI, but Marcus is intrigued with the puzzle of the multiple robberies, and takes his deputy on the road to track them down.

Bridges as Marcus constantly teases and torments his deputy Alberto as they’re driving and as they stay overnight in motels.  He reminded me so much of my elderly uncles from Oklahoma and Missouri.  Not malicious, but decidedly not politically correct, and not realizing when the racist “jokes” can really hurt deeply.  This is Alberto’s boss, and his long time friend, but Marcus can be a bit much to take at times.

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Ben Foster as Tanner is the wild card.  He makes some impulsive decisions that escalate matters considerably.  Chris Pine was so fantastic in this.  His pretty boy looks led to roles like Princess Diaries 2 and Prince Charming himself in Into The Woods (he was so good in that!).  But I think, at heart, like Brad Pitt, he really wants the character roles.

I won’t spoiler any more of the plan, but Chris Pine is playing a divorced father of two sons.  Bridges as the Texas Ranger figures the robberies are to get enough money for a particular goal.  He just can’t figure out for what.  There’s a fantastic scene where Pine and Bridges go head to head towards the end.

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Can’t recommend this film highly enough.  It’s a caper movie crossed with a Western.  Bridges, Foster and Pine at the top of their acting games.  I hope Jeff Bridges gets a supporting Oscar nomination for this one.  He’s that great.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Chris Pine also had a really interesting part in the post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah with Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  It was at Sundance last year, and it’s worth a watch. It’s included with Amazon Prime Video currently.